17th October (1917)

I am writing this on my knee in a packed horse-truck marked: Hommes 40.  Cheveaux (en long) 8.  So you will guess that we have been up since 4 a.m. and are now really en route for the field of operations.  When we have our packs up you can hardly see us; viz. Oil sheet overcoat and spare clothes rolled, haversack, waterbottle and mess tin, box respirator, P.H. gas helmet, steel-helmet (horrid and heavy), bandolier and 50 rounds of ammunition and sundries.  Items I have not remarked are – Continental edition of Daily Mail delivered at 1½d – we all have slight colds.  These trucks have no seats but also no smell to speak of – all goes well.  The band marched us down to the station and played us aboard with Auld Lang Syne.  It is now moon and we have pulled up at Calais after passing through Boulogne again.  All one can see en passant is a wall of buildings with spires and domes peeping up above the red tile roofs; red tile roofs seem to be general hereabouts and go well with the whitewashed walls of the village dwellings and inns.  Between the two large towns were stretches of charming country.  We have passed through huge camps, quarries of enormous extent, factories of various kinds and seen large numbers of German prisoners at work therein. (1.30. p.m.)  Reached a town called St. Omer, where there are some fine old cathedrals and have passed low-lying country trellised with drains and canals, but highly cultivated.  Low hills surrounded surmounted by windmills, or chateaux, or ruined towers: pollarded trees – not only the osier willow, but many other varieties are lopped, apparently every stick having its value.  Stopped at Haazebruch, which cannot be many miles behind the lines as an observation balloon is visible.  We are eternally passing other trains bearing troops, wounded, etc.  Have just watched an old baker on his round with a large hand-cart under which a big dog harnessed-up does most of the work.  All sorts of troops are to be seen – Indians, Nova Scotians, Tommies, Chows, Japs, Blacks, Frenchies, etc.

Tramped with our swags over the cobbles to a camp about 2 miles away, reaching it after dark.  There we got hot tea and ate some more of our rations.  We are on raised ground and all round the northern horizon are regular flashes like those of a revolving lighthouse – you know what they are!  Every now and then there is a glow in the sky lasting 10 seconds – star shells.  Fancy 300 to 400 miles of that going on on the Western front alone!  Another draft followed up a few hours later to go into the 2nd Brigade (a mobile brigade that dodges about a good deal more than the others) and I must tell you a little incident of yesterday.  They were one man short and the officer asked one of our lot to volunteer.  After a bit a hardcase of a chap mooched out rather sheepishly and, when the officer out of curiosity asked him his reasons for wanting to change, he said it was so that he “wouldn’t have to get up so early tomorrow”.

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